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A Gentle Spring Clean

The clocks have just gone forward and it is officially British Summer Time – I know it doesn’t feel like it yet!

But it is a good prompt to do some metaphorical spring cleaning – always more fun than the real thing! How do you do this?

Think of some recurring thought you have which makes you feel bad. For example you may think you are not good enough at something, or that someone else has a ‘down’ on you… your brain will already have suggested something to you.

Now take that thought and write it down or make a pictorial representation of it on a piece of paper. And take the paper, destroy it and bin it!!

Once we have literally got rid of the thought, we need to replace it with something more useful to us, something that helps to build our good mood. So find something equivalent, such as: ‘I am good at ….’ Or ‘X really likes me’. Now write that different thought down in bright colours, or again, make a picture to represent it. Stick it to your computer or your desk for a couple of days, and let it soak into your unconscious – and smile whenever you look at it.

You can repeat the process as often as you like – have a good clear-out and start the spring with a joyful heart!

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Many years ago, I was working with groups of young people who had been thrown out of school for ‘bad behaviour’. They were a great bunch of kids, once they decided they trusted you. Having been given that honour – of being trusted – I was curious to know what I had done to earn it.

Ade told me that two things mattered to them:

  • I didn’t talk down to them
  • I had never once seemed to doubt their ability to achieve whatever they wanted to

I wondered why that was, and then realised that I had been brought up to believe that everyone has something special about them, so that’s what I looked for in others. And whatever you look for, you find…

It is a vital perspective, if you want to bring out the best in those you work with. There was a piece of research done in the USA, where they took two mixed ability classes, but told their teachers that one group were high achievers, and the other group were slow learners. By the end of the first term, the teachers had proved them right!

The group classed as high achievers were all achieving, the other group were all being slow learners.

With beliefs, you tend, as in this example, to get what you expect. So, stop and think about what you expect your colleagues to be like. If they don’t get your point, do you think they are a bit slow or not bright enough? Or do you think that you have expressed it badly?

We can prove any belief we like to hold, so why not make it easier for you to enable people to be at their best, by deciding to believe that they are pretty special, your job is just to bring that out in them.


  1. List your beliefs about others, including the contradictions – be honest in this one
  2. Now go through your list and choose the beliefs that would be useful to you in enabling others to develop, then add some if you want to
  3. At your next team meeting, read through the ones you have chosen, and decide to act as if they are always true, for the whole of that session, and see what happens


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When we are young, we are greatly influenced by our role models.  As children, we learn to mimic or parents at a very young age and, in later years, whilst our role models may change, we continue to learn from those we admire.  These will include our heroes, whether fictional or real, those at school who may be brighter, better at sports than we are or those who are the most popular.

Whilst our tastes may change, as we grow older, the desire to learn and emulate others does not diminish.  At work, we try and understand what makes people successful and recognise the behaviours of the most influential.   Our own leadership styles are more likely to reflect what we have picked up from others than what we may have learnt from our own experiences.

Before we notice, others are watching us closely and seeing what works and what they like.  And if what we do does not seem to match what we say, we build suspicion, distrust and potentially lose others’ commitment to our leadership.

So I would like you to think about the behaviours that you demonstrate at work.  Do these reflect the ways of working that you are trying to encourage or are there inconsistencies.  For example, are you trying to encourage others to have a better work/life balance, but are the first to arrive and the last to leave?  Or are you trying to improve team working within your department, whilst being openly proud of your independence and autonomy of decision-making?

We are often unaware of these inconsistencies between what we say and what we do, but they are glaringly apparent to others.  So, ask yourself some key questions:

  1. What are the behaviours and ways of working that you are trying to promote within your team or department?
  2. How consistent are your own actions in demonstrating these changes?
  3. What improvements or changes in your leadership style do you need to make to ensure that there is greater consistency?

Finally, why not take the opportunity to explain to others the changes you are planning to make?  This will demonstrate your commitment, show them that you believe in adapting your own style and so encourage them to take similar actions themselves.  And isn’t that what being a good role model is all about?

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Knowing it All

One of the things that I was reminded of while I was on retreat in August was the importance of being rather than knowing.

The man who led the retreat has been a teacher for most of his life and has always inspired me and helped me to continue to develop myself. He is now wheelchair-bound and takes a question and answer session each afternoon.

And in those sessions, what comes clear is that he is still learning, and still wanting to develop. So he will say that he doesn’t know the answer to all the questions, he will accept and acknowledge challenges that stimulate him to think more about some of the topics, and of course sometimes his answers are just perfect, coming from a deep knowing that goes beyond the purely intellectual.

I sit there and realise yet again that being comfortable with not knowing is a vital ability in anybody, and allows others to explore for themselves and find what they know at some level. It may be more valuable than being the expert who keeps people as the ‘children’ who don’t know yet.


  1. Next time you don’t know the answer when someone asks you something, feel comfortable about saying that you don’t know, and get the group or individual to explore for themselves
  2. Next time you do think you know the answer, try letting others find it for themselves, and enjoy some of the differences between their version of the answer and yours


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